BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Defense attorney asserts that decision by Federal Circuit Court to overturn the special circumstances is being challenged by the wrong agency.
LOS ANGELES–The Los Angeles Country District Attorney’s office announced Friday morning during a hearing at the Los Angeles County Criminal Court its intentions to retry the special circumstance portion of the Hampig Sassounian case–despite a ruling last year by the federal Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn that decision and provide parole eligibility for the defendant.
Mark Geragos–the defense attorney on the case–argued that the office of the District Attorney–headed by Steve Cooley–was not the proper agency to call for a retrial–given that last year’s decision was made by a federal court. He asserted that–if the case is to be tried–it must be done so by the State Attorney General’s office.
To that end–Geragos will file a motion with the court–which will convene on October 31 to hear argumen’s regarding the defense motion.
The courtroom–filled to capacity by Sassounian’s family members–as well as community leaders and supporter–listened attentively as the hearing proceeded.
The gallery’s support for Sassounian was evident at every juncture during the brief hearing–as waves of support and proud sense of camaraderie emanated from those in attendance. Sassounian–who was in present at the hearing–looked optimistic and fit and reciprocated the crowd’s enthusiastic support.
The District Attorney’s office aims to maintain the special circumstance–which prevents Sassounian from parole eligibility for a life sentence he is serving for allegedly carrying out the 1981 killing of Kemal Arikan–the Turkish Consul General to Los Angeles.
Following the hearing–Geragos said that–in his view–the case should not be tried at all.
"I don’t think that we can get a fair hearing from the DA’s office–since the original prosecutor on this case is the individual who has decided to retry," explained Geragos.
"It is ludicrous that the criminal courts have not other business than to retry a 20-year-old case for special circumstance. It’s silly," explained Geragos.
The noted attorney pointed out that the decision should be whether the chief law enforcement office of the state–the Attorney General–should be allowed to take a "dispassionate and objective view" of the case.
Geragos contended that there is a conflict of interest with the District Attorney’s office–as it relates to this case–given its role in the original trial.
He added it would be inevitable to distance the case in chief from the retrial of the special circumstance issue–since this was a case where the identification of the suspect was questionable and dubious.
Geragos asserted that "Hampig is innocent. The sole basis of [his] conviction was an informant’s testimony" explaining that since then informant testimonies have been deemed unreliable. "Clearly–in this case the informant testimony was perjury." He added that a 1993 hearing found that the informant testimony was–in fact–false.
In remarks to the press–Geragos stated that the county’s law enforcement authority was gran’standing in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedies. He highlighted this assertion by revealing that Sassounian was moved from the prison facility in Lancaster on Sept. 12–adding that sources had conceded to him that the recent tone in the country is propelling this decision by the District Attorney.
Geragos–who has conveyed concerns to the DA about the negative sentimen’s this matter may instigate toward the Armenian community–said "obviously they [the DA’s office] don’t care enough… to make the right decision."
The DA’s move to retry this case has angered the Armenian-American community–which for more that two decades has vigilantly followed the matter and has supported Sassounian. Geragos urged the community to come together and by writing letters to the District Attorney’s office–urge him to reconsider his decision.
Geragos also reflected on his father–Paul–who was the defense attorney in the original trial.
"He is so upset. I told him to stay in the office and not come today," said Geragos of his father–whose passionate representation of Sassounian became a cornerstone of the case.